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Monday, 14 March 2016 13:30

Anti-Racism Week kicks off

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Today marks the start of Anti-Racism Week during which South Africans are encouraged to take on racism by learning about it, talking about it, speaking out against it and acting to stop it.

The week, a campaign driven by the Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada Foundations, aims to create awareness about racism and how it affects individuals and society.  

“We’re encouraging South Africans to have the conversation about race and never to allow racist sentiments to persist in our homes, schools, universities and boardrooms or braai. We need a zero tolerance approach to stop it,” said Sello Hatang, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

CEO of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Neeshan Balton said racism is a debilitating problem in society that required urgent attention.

“To not give it the attention it deserves is to gamble dangerously with South Africa’s future. Our history, structural inequality and the way we were socialised resulted in racism digging its heels deep into our national identity. Undoing something that runs deep in our veins is an enormous task for each one of us, but not impossible to overcome,” said Balton.

The Department of Basic Education has joined the call to raise awareness against racism in schools. 

It is working with one of the member organizations of the Anti-racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA), the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) to train teachers on its “Teaching Respect for All” programme.

The programme seeks to unpack the “woundedness” of South Africans given the apartheid legacy and to lay the foundation for a long-term programme of building a non-racial society. 

“Racism, intolerance and discrimination are not a product of a cohesive society. Social cohesion is one of the key priorities of this current administration and its role in promoting unity in diversity in and through education is vital to the future of our country,” the department said in a statement on Sunday.

According to international experience and research, textbooks are one of the many levers to promote social cohesion in addition to transmitting knowledge, textbooks also seek to anchor the political and social norms of a society.

Textbooks also convey a global understanding of history and of the rules of society as well as norms of living with other people. 

The Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said textbooks that promote diversity will boost efforts aimed at ensuring the education sector contributes to the goal of an empowered, inclusive and fair citizenship, wherein all persons are guaranteed the right to be, irrespective of perceived differences. 

“It is within the context of this qualitative importance of education that the role played by textbooks in equipping learners with the skills and values essential for living harmoniously in a diverse and rapidly globalising world is of critical importance.”

It is important to ask whether learners have access to textbooks that are learner-friendly, gender-balanced, and free from stereotypes and discrimination, she said.

The departments’ directorate responsible for Social Cohesion and Equity in Education has undertaken a mini evaluation of a small sample of school textbooks and Learner Teacher Support Materials (LTSMs).  

There was also an indication that although a screening process is conducted, some textbooks still contain discriminatory content.

To this end the department has established a ministerial task team to specifically work on evaluating textbooks for discrimination according to specifications in the terms of reference that was gazetted in February this year. 

The terms of reference of the ministerial committee include evaluating a sample of existing textbooks and LTSMs against stereotypes and discrimination towards the promotion of diversity in education; to ascertain whether the text and illustrations used by authors in textbooks and LTSMs is inclusive, sensitive to offending or excluding others, and promotes the values of equality and empowerment for learners.

The committee will conduct a content analysis to ascertain the specific discrimination bias, frequency and type of discrimination, examine the extent to which different forms of discrimination manifests itself in South African textbooks and LTSMs focusing on race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation and other forms of discrimination.

It will further arrange public hearings on the findings and preliminary report of the ministerial committee and make recommendations. 

The ministerial task team is chaired by Professor Crain Soudien and supported by Linda Chisholm, Sechaba Mahlomaholo, Melissa Steyn, Thabo Msibi, Lebo Moletsane, Professor Yusuf Sayed and Pumla Mdontswa.